Collective Education

Are you gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, neutral, intersex, or questioning? Being outside cultural norms can be painful, confusing, and often dangerous for folks like us, especially those of us in our teens and early twenties.  But although we have been told that experts are people from outside our communities (who have gotten degrees from colleges and make lots of money), we strongly believe that our experiences – combined with our ability to learn from our experiences – makes us profound sources of knowledge, resiliency, and power.

Do you know how to find people like you? Your rights at school and in the community? Important LGBTQ folks in politics and history?  Do you think about racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, and/or  homophobia, and about the intersections and connections between these issues – in your life and in the lives of others?  Are you looking for a place where you can engage with these ideas?  Perhaps the two best things you can do immediately is to come to our Tuesday “Breathing Fire, Spitting Verse” spoken word poetry workshop series from 6-8 pm and/or our Wednesday night social support / popular education groups from 5-7 at our *new* office, 1695 Main Street (second floor)! We try our darnedest to ensure that these are safe spaces – so if you’re not out, you’ll hopefully find sanctuary here.
Another important way to learn – whether you identify as LGBTQ or not – about how gender and sexuality operate in our society is to read, reflect and engage. The following toolkit will provide you with vital resources whether they discuss solidarity, agency/power, language, radical histories, or local organizations. Collective education is part of Out Now’s commitment to interconnected struggles for liberation, so feel free to sit with this and share it within different communities.


Out Now’s Toolkit

  • What is Allyship?

    Here’s one definition (among many) that hopefully provides some clarity:

    An ally is a member of the “dominant” or “majority” group who questions or rejects the dominant ideology and works against oppression through support of, and as an advocate, with or for, the oppressed population. An ally does not share the identity of the oppressed group – and as such, possesses privilege.

    Here’s another definition, this time for privilege:

    A special advantage, immunity, permission, right or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.

    There are all sorts of different identities, so it happens quite often that people can belong to both privileged groups and oppressed groups.  A queer able-bodied white woman from a low-income background, for example, can possess white and able-bodied privilege, while at the same struggle with sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and classism.

    At Out Now, we recognize that we all have multiple identities, and so we employ an intersectional analysis, whereby all identities (race, class, gender, ability, age, sexuality, etc.) cannot be understood separately – and must be understood as inextricably connected and overlapping.  As such, no matter our identity – we are always striving to become better allies.  Would you like to join us in our pursuit of more thoughtful allyship?   We will never be perfect allies – will will always make mistakes.   But here are some steps to get the ball rolling:

    1) Educate yourself!   If you want to become an ally to LGBTQ folks, for example, read up on the history of queer liberation movements by acquainting  yourself with the Stonewall Riots in ’69 and ACT UP! organizing in the 80s.   Learn about LGBT and queer cultures.  Understand that there is no single queer culture.  Educate yourself about how folks self-identify – along lines of both sexuality and gender.  Steer clear of  words like ‘homosexual’ and ‘tranny’ (the former is antiquated; the latter is simply offensive).  Understand that both sexuality and gender exist on a spectrum – binaries of man/woman and gay/straight were rejected long ago by LGBTQ communities (a binary is something that is composed of two parts).  Learn about transgender communities.  Don’t make assumptions.  If you don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun, ask!  Bear in mind that YOU are responsible for your learning.  Sometimes its okay to ask questions, but don’t expect an LGBTQ person to educate you about everything – the burden is on you, not them!  Most of what you might feel compelled to ask someone you can find online.  A lot of folks from oppressed groups are TIRED of trying to educate their privileged peers.  Take responsibility for your privilege by doing your homework.

    2) Strive to interrupt oppressive dynamics.  If you want to become an ally to women, for example, take a look first at your own behavior.  Sexism and misogyny are so embedded – normalized – in our culture that male-identified folks often act in oppressive ways without even realizing it! If you’re a gay or queer man, it does NOT mean that you can’t be sexist! Donald Rumsfeld once said (this is a shortened version), “There are things we know.  There are things we don’t know.  And there are things we don’t know we don’t know.”  It came across as pretty stupid at the time, but its actually quite wise as it relates to the invisibility of privilege.

    So do some self-reflection, preferably paired with some research.  Here are some questions to begin with: Do you really listen to women, without interruption?  Do you talk too much?  Do you always engage in consensual sex?  Do you ever engage in any type of street harassment – either verbal or non-verbal?  What about your language – do you ever use words like ‘chick,’ or ‘pussy,’ or ‘fat,’ or ‘bitch’?   Take a look at this list.  Then look at this list.  How many of these things do you take for granted?

    street_harassment1Okay so now you’re thinking about your own behavior.  This is good.  What about the behavior of your friends and acquaintances?  There are endless opportunities to disrupt sexist dynamics – at home, in the workplace, on the street, in the classroom, amongst friends.  Once you come to recognize that something is problematic, it is your responsibility to do something!  Silence is complicity. Don’t wait for women to do the speaking up – and don’t expect a pat on the back when you do stand up.

    3) Get involved!  There are countless ways to get involved – from volunteering for a charity to getting involved with a social justice campaign to donating to your favorite non-profit organization.  For example, if you want to become an ally to people of color, find an organization that is lead by people of color, and ask what you can do.  Do not tell them what you can do nor what you think they should be doing.  If you are invited to a meeting, spend most of the time with your mouth shut.  Listen and learn.  Sometimes the only thing that a white person can do for an organization by and for people of color is to donate money.  Financial support is always important!  Make sure not to skip to step three before first 1) educating yourself and 2) working on your own behavior and the behavior of your immediate peers.  

    White folks, like men, and every other privileged  groups, have A LOT of learning to d0. Never become smug in your learning.  Don’t expect that oppressed groups are going to appreciate or be grateful for your ‘enlightened’ understanding.  At the same time, be kind to yourself.  We all make mistakes, probably daily.  Have the self-love, as well as the humility, to accept your mistakes – and learn from them.  Talk regularly with other folks in similar shoes as you – for support and constructive feedback.  Find allies that you consider role models.  And keep at it, for the rest of your life.  We will be walking with you.

  • QUEER is a controversial word, literally meaning unusual, but used for people whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity differ from the norm: a unifying umbrella term for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and/or intersex. In this usage, it is usually a synonym of such terms as LGBT or lesbigay.

    More people identify as gay or lesbian than as queer. Queer is a much more political term and is often used by those who are politically active; by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities; by those who reject sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight; by those who see themselves as oppressed by the heteronormativity of the larger culture; and/or by heterosexuals whose sexual preferences make them a minority (for example, BDSM practitioners). Another term used in similar ways is PoMosexual.

    Many people, however, identify primarily as Queer rather than gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or intersex. Some feel that other labels do not adequately describe their sexual identity and preferences.

    Some queer people identify as such because they feel it empowers them to be themselves on a level that goes beyond the rigid limitations of the traditional polarized interpretation of sexual orientation (either homosexual or heterosexual, or bisexual in the middle) and gender identity (male or female). For these people, being queer means discarding such labels and their expectations and embracing the idea that their sexual identity or practices is simply different from others’ in one or more ways.

    Historically, the term queer was an epithet for gay men, bordering on profanity. Since the term originated, and in many circumstances persists, as a homophobic slur, and because another common meaning of the word is “strange,” many members of sexual minorities do not favor its use.

    Many social institutions and social policies reinforce HETERONORMATIVITY: the belief that human beings fall into two distinct and complementary categories, male and female; that sexual and marital relations are normal only when between two people of different genders; and that each gender has certain natural roles in life. Thus, physical sex, gender identity, and gender role, should in any given person all align to either male or female norms, and heterosexuality is considered to be the only normal sexual orientation. Heteronormativity stigmatizes alternative concepts of sexuality and gender.

    HETEROSEXISM is the assumption that everyone or a particular person is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is “normal.” It can be distinguished from homophobia in that it doesn’t necessarily imply hostility towards other sexual orientations, merely a failure to account for their existence. If Fred tells Jake, “Sorry I wasn’t home to take your call. I was on a date,” and Jake says, “Where did you take her?” Jake has made the heterosexist assumption that Fred’s date was a woman, when in fact Fred’s date might have been a man.

    The term HOMOPHOBIA means fear or hatred of, and/or prejudice or discrimination against people who are homosexual. It is sometimes used to mean any sort of opposition to same-sex romance or sexual activity, though this opposition may more accurately be called anti-gay bias. Homophobia is not a psychiatric term.

    Sex and Gender are NOT the same

    The easy part:

    Sex is a description of one’s genetic sexual type. Sex is traditionally expressed in the animal kingdom as male/female. In our species, males have a penis, and females have a vagina.

    Gender is a description of the perceived masculinity or femininity of a person or characteristic. It is traditionally expressed as man/woman. One can alter this perception.

    The harder part:

    While it is an expectation (and an assumption) of mainstream society that individuals express their gender and sex congruently, individuals can (and do) choose not to do so. For example, a male wearing a dress, a feminine hairstyle, and makeup would be considered a woman. While this male’s gender is woman, her sex is still male. Pronouns are an expression of gender, not sex. Our male woman in this example would be referrered to as “she,” not “he.” A shorter example: A drag queen’s sex is male, but gender is woman; she IS a woman.

    As you may have surmised, notions of gender are socially constructed; that is, society created the categories of man and woman and decided what looked/sounded/felt/seemed masculine and what looked/sounded/felt/seemed feminine.

    Transgender Refers to those whose gender expression or identity transgresses socially assigned gender roles or expectation, or who do not identify as either of the two sexes as currently defined. Transgender is a broad term that includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens/kings, transgender butch, and a variety of other identities. When referring to transgender people, use they pronoun the have designated as appropriate, or the one that is consistent with their presentation of themselves. If an individual’s gender expression is ambiguous, try to use gender-neutral language or ask that person how she or he prefers to be addressed.

    Transsexuals Individuals who do not identify with their birth-assigned genders and sometimes alter their bodies surgically and/or hormonally. The transition (formerly called “sex change”) is a complicated, multi-step process that may take years and may include, but is not limited to, sex reassignment surgery.

    Intersex About 1% of children are born with chromosomes, hormones, genitalia and/or other sex characteristics that are not exclusively male or female as defined by the medical establishment in our society. In most cases, these children are at no medical risk, but most are assigned a sex (male or female) by their doctors and/or families and may undergo cosmetic surgery on their sex organs so that they fit society’s idea of “normal.” These procedures sometimes damage the child’s reproductive organs and can emotionally scar them by forcing on them a gender and/or sex role that may not feel natural.


    In addition, the racial justice network ‘Colours of Resistance’ has compiled a useful list of Definitions for the Revolution.

  • As far back as there is written history, there are references to Queer people.  Ancient art and writings has been found from all over the world depicting same sex couples, Trans people, and all other forms of queer identity.  Our history is tied in with all of human history, and I encourage everyone to look into the vast amount of information that is out there.

    Here is a brief history of the Queer Movement in the U.S.:

    1924 – The first homosexual rights organization in America is founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago — The Society for Human Rights. It produced the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom. The group exists for a few months before disbanding under police pressure, after several members were arrested.

    1950– The Mattachine Society is founded in L.A.   This group was started by Harry Hay, a labor activist and teacher, who got a group of male friends together, to protect and improve the rights of homosexuals.  By 1961, there were regional groups across the country.

    1955 – The Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S., was founded in founded in San Francisco.  They provided support and education to women that were afraid to come out.

    1960’s–  Ball Culture become very popular in Harlem.  Drag Queens, and members of the trans community formed “houses” made up mostly of people of color, a group of people that live and perform together in ballroom competitions that include Vogueing, Drag performances, Cat walking, and dance competitions.  This culture was highlighted later on in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, about a very well-known House Mother Paris Dupree of the House of Dupree.

    1969– The Stonewall riots happened in New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, patronized by drag queens, transgender people, many poor queers, and queers of color. Police raids of the Inn, and others like it were routine. One June 28th, when the police moved in to raid the bar once again, and arrest anyone wearing clothing of the opposite birth sex, the patrons were done with the abuse, and fought back.  What began as a scuffle in a bar, quickly moved to the streets, where more people fed up with constant government abuse, continued to fight the police. The Stonewall Riots are credited as the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

    1970– The first Gay Liberation marches are held in New York, and Los Angeles, to commemorate Stonewall, and continue the fight for Gay Rights

    -Sylvia Rivera, a Hispanic trans woman, and trans rights activist present at Stonewall, founded STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries– a group supporting homeless Drag Queens, trans and queer youth with food and shelter, and also advocating for their inclusion in the larger, Gay Rights Movement.

    1973 – The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  This is a major step forward for queer people, who up until now were considered mentally ill.

    1977– Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay person to run for public office in California, when he was elected as city-county supervisor in San Francisco. The following year, Milk and the mayor of San Francisco George Moscone, were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White.

    1979 – The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights happens on October 14th.  This march solidified small, local movements into a nationwide demand for equal rights for gays and lesbians.

    1981– Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), was sometimes informally called the gay plague, was the  name first proposed to describe what is now known as AIDS. This is a time in history where backlash against the queer community was incredibly widespread, and many become fearful of queer people all over again.

    1987– ACT UP ( AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed in New York City as a direct action group that fought for the rights of people living with AIDS.  They fought very publicly for medical research, and legislation regarding discrimination of AIDS patients.  ACT UP brought queer culture to the forefront, and made political action a powerful tool in the queer community.

    1993– Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was signed into law by President Clinton.  The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual service members, while barring openly queer people from military service.

    1994– The Audre Lorde project was founded in Brooklyn.  The project is named after Audre Lorde, a Caribbean-American queer poet and activist much loved in the queer community. The Audre Lorde Project is an organization for queer people of color. The organization concentrates on community organizing and radical nonviolent activism around progressive issues, especially relating to queer and transgender communities, AIDS and HIV activism, pro-immigrant activism, prison reform and organizing among youth of color.

    1998– Angela Davis, a black, queer, formerly incarcerated political activist,  formed Critical Resistance, a grass roots organization that fights to dismantle the prison industrial complex.

    2000– Civil Union, a legally recognized relationship similar to marriage, but without all the benefits, becomes legal in Vermont, although not recognized under Federal law.  Other states follow, offering benefits to same sex partners, unavailable to them before.

    2004– Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize same sex marriage.

    2011– After years of protest, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is finally repealed, and service members are allowed to serve openly.

    Wanna know more? ( And you should!) Look up : Bayard Rustin, Kate Bornstein, Amber Hollibaugh, Urvashi Vaid

  • Recommended Online Resources:

    Local Organizational Allies                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Black and Pink is one of Out Now’s favorite allies.  Here is their mission statement: “Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We are outraged by the specific violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, and respond through advocacy, education, direct service, and organizing.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Youth) is a youth-led, adult-supported social support organization committed to social justice – and creating, sustaining, and advocating for programs, policies, and services for the LGBT youth community.  Out Now is one of several LGBTQ youth organizations part of the BAGLY network.


    National Resources
    National Youth Advocacy Coalition 
    Sylvia Rivera Law Project
    Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
    Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
    Queers for Economic Justice